A high-end surveillance software that was typically purchased by police forces in the US to track and obtain social media data was also reportedly sold to public schools. Controversial CIA-backed data-mining firm Geofeedia allegedly sold surveillance software to a Chicago-based high school.
In 2014, the Lincolnshire-Prairie School District paid Geofeedia $10,000 to monitor the social media posts of students at the Adlai E Stevenson High School and entered into a one-year contract with them. The software was operated by a police liaison stationed within the school campus. The school eventually decided not to renew its subscription with Geofeedia, citing lack of relevant information and cost.
Jim Conrey, a spokesperson for Lincolnshire-Prairie School District, told the Daily Dot: "We did have for one year a contract with Geofeedia, which earlier in the year received an investment from the CIA's venture capital arm In-Q-Tel. We were mostly interested in the possibility of trying to prevent any kind of harm, either that students would do to themselves or to other students."
He added: "It was really just about student safety; if we could try to head off any potential dangerous situations, we thought it might be worth it. A lot of kids that were posting stuff that we most wanted, they weren't doing the geo-tagging or making it public," Conrey said. "We weren't really seeing a lot there. Quite frankly, we found that it wasn't worth the money."
It is still uncertain as to how many public schools Geofeedia's surveillance software was marketed in and how many more may have purchased it.
Earlier in October, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, three of Geofeedia's top data sources, revoked the firm's access to user posts, citing the social media monitoring platform's unauthorised use of user data. According to ACLU, police forces were using Geofeedia to monitor the social media activities of protestors in Oakland, Baltimore, Ferguson and Missouri.
According to reports, police also used Geofeedia's surveillance software to intercept "chatter from a local high school about kids who planned to walk out of class" and join a protest in the aftermath of a police shooting. Additionally, leaked internal emails revealed that Geofeedia actively collaborated with law enforcement to undermine the privacy controls offered by social media firms like Facebook.
"Discovering that Geofeedia was not only being used by social media sites to help police spy on activists of color was disturbing enough," said Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice. "But then to find out this third-party vendor is also helping to police public school students is beyond disturbing, it's a terrifying bypass of the most basic rights of some of the most vulnerable, and most dissident, voices in the country: activists of colour and students."